Every week, I search out Seattle's best noodles. Read past weeks here.
Noodle(ish): Banh Uot Nem Nuong
Where: Huong Binh, 1207 S. Jackson St., 720-4907.
I was out for a few days last week, fighting off the flu that has flattened half the Weekly's staff and watching episode after episode of Dead Like Me on DVD. But it could have been worse. One of my best friends lost a week of work, while I only had time to catch a season and a half of the Showtime series before I was up and running around again. I blame the rapid return to good health on my daily forays to Little Saigon for pho and hu thieu.
There seemed to be no reason to alter the regimen when it came time to celebrate the virility of my white blood cells. A friend and I met at Huong Binh, rumored to be the city's best place for Central Vietnamese food, for bun bo hue, the classic spicy beef soup with steamed pork and flank that can also contain anything from whole pig ears to cubes of blood and pig-liver slices. That's certainly what the waitress certainly recommended I order.
But the stock in Huong Binh's bun bo hue wasn't particularly flavorful, and neither was my dining companion's mi quang (a gorgeous turmeric-yellow noodle soup with steamed pork and sesame rice crackers) -- you're still going to have to drive down to Hoang Lan on MLK if you want the city's best. What bowled us over were the thing we ordered as a whim, a side dish: banh uot (rice-flour crepes) with nem nuong (meatballs), herbs, lettuce leaves, and nuoc cham (sweet-sour fish sauce).
I don't know if I'd technically call banh uot noodles, but they're in
the noodle genus: a plate of quickly cooked crepes, crinkly and
slippery, covered in ground peanuts and fried scallions and flanked
with two skewers of pork meatballs. The slightly sticky, jiggly,
meltingly soft noodles reminded me of cheong fan (those steamed rice
noodles wrapped around shrimp or beef that you get at dim sum), only
more tender. (Here's a little more about banh uot.)
To eat the banh uot, you tear off a swath of frilly lettuce leaf and
wrap some noodle, a meatball, and some cilantro and rau ram in the
larger leaf to form a loose packet. Then, desperately clutching the
packet, you dip everything in the fish sauce and pop as much as you can
fit into your mouth before it all slips out.
We like to talk about great dishes as if every bite is different from
the last, but the best Vietnamese street food is even more refined.
Every second brings something new to the palate -- crunchy, sweet,
meaty, slippery, tangy, fragrant, peanutty. It's like a Bollywood
movie, really: not worth watching if it doesn't provide you with a
little fighting, a few dance numbers, a love store, and a moral
Have a favorite noodle? Hit me up.